Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reflex (2004)

Author: Steven Gould | Page Count: 380

The sequel novel to Jumper takes place about 10 years later from the first book. Davy and Millie are married and she earns a living as a therapist while Davy takes infrequent assignments from the NSA only if they are nonviolent or otherwise morally straight. Davy goes to a typical meeting with his handler when he is unexpectedly drugged and kidnapped. This sets Millie off on a search for him assisted by agents from both the NSA and FBI. The perspective alternates between chapters from Millie to Davy as she searches for him and Davy tries to learn more about his mysterious captors who have somehow found out enough about him to be able to restrain his teleportation abilities.

The sequel has moved past the character building of the first novel and is mostly now a straight up thriller. The characters are still as readers know them just in a larger story that the author manages to make feel authentic with some interesting stretches of science fiction. Most notably the question of restraining a teleport and some other technicalities of physics show Gould has an understanding of science that helps ground the story in a sort of reality. Albeit one where teleportation is possible. Mixed with the the mystery and intrigue of spies and conspiracies makes for an entertaining read.

"In the box" reflexes out of 5

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Dark Tower: Book I: The Gunslinger (1982)

Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 212

'No one ever really pays for it in silver, he thought. The price of any evil – necessary or otherwise – comes due in flesh.'

Book One is your introduction to Roland Deschain, also known as Roland of Gilead, the titular gunslinger. Roland is a man obsessed. His obsession carries him across Midworld, the land of his birth. Midworld is a familiar amalgamation of our own recorded history and a romanticised version of the same. It's the type of fictional reality that fans of King's other works will feel right at home in.

Now would be a good time to say that this isn't a Horror novel. It's Fantasy merged with the old-fashioned Western, but it's still populated with the kind of well-defined characters that the author is so very good at. Love him or loathe him, you can't deny his strengths.

Later books in the series take too damn long to get to where they're going (some could do with at least 100 pages trimmed off the beginning), but this one is more focused. There's no unnecessary waffle. There are flashbacks to earlier times at opportune moments but they aren't whimsical, they offer a deeper insight into the present situation and help explain why Roland acts like he does. You may find him hard to connect with initially, but as his story deepens so too does his depth of character and his principles become less obtuse.

The book was written over a period of twelve years (when time allowed between other projects) and originally published as five short stories before being collected together. The progression in the writing is clear to see. If you compare the earliest part with the later parts, you'll see a huge difference in quality.

You should know before you even begin that the series, originally planned to reach approx 3000 pages in length, swelled to eight books that if collected together would be a whopping 4250 pages long.* Also, that's assuming King has finished with the series. I suspect he's got some more Dark Tower in him, so that figure could increase in the future. That's not to say it's unfinished. It did get an ending, but there are stories that could be told within the existing framework, as evidenced by the interquel, The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012).

3½ gateways out of 5

*That figure is obtained from my own copies, which are a mix of paperback and hardback. King revised the first book in 2003. The listing on amazon gives a 304 page count for it. That would add another 92 pages to the tally.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sláine: The Lord of Misrule (2011)

Author: Pat Mills | Illustrators: Clint Langley / Greg Staples / Jim Murray
Page Count: 128

'He wasn't wearing the horns... the horns were wearing him...'

Sláine, now a time-travelling instrument of the Earth Goddess, gets dropped into historical events circa 1140 AD.  It’s more akin to a death / rebirth cycle than time travel but that’s semantics, the important thing is he’s tasked with destroying the Blood God so that the false religion he preaches can be torn down and the old religion put back where it belongs.  Christians will be upset.

You’re going to have to accept the time travel aspect if you’re to get any enjoyment out of it.  Why can’t one person be born again and again to better represent the many aspects of the Horned God?   I don’t think it’s as anachronistic as some folks accused it of at the time.  In fact, I think it’s aged better than some of the other Sláine stories.

Along the way our anti-hero gets to bury his axe in some Norman head, because it wouldn't do to go some place new and not slaughter a few dozen zealots.

A lengthy prelude (The Name of the Sword) begins the work.  It chronicles Sláine’s slipping into the boots of the Goddess’ champion of the time, with painted art by Greg Staples.  It’s a necessary set-up to get to the good stuff - the good stuff being the titular Lord of Misrule story.

Clint Langley takes over for the main feature.  He lets his brush go wild inside and outside panels with some two-page spreads that show how dynamic Sláine can be when he’s given room to really spasm out.  Langley hadn't started dabbling in his photography / digital art in '95 so it was regular pen and inks.  However, the 2011 collected edition was recoloured.  Please stop recolouring stuff!

The story ends abruptly, which is something that happened a lot in 2000AD because the anthology format usually meant a conclusion had to be given in the limited page count of one issue.  There’s an epilogue to try and make up for it.  It feels like a bonus rather than an unnecessary stretching out.

The book collects together The Name of the Sword (Progs 950 - 956), Lord of Misrule (Progs 958 - 963 + 995 - 998), and The Bowels of Hell (Prog 1000).

3½ two finger salutes out of 5

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Death in Five Boxes (1938)

Author: John Dickson Carr | Page Count: 310

"After inspecting the wreckage, he sat down on the running-board of the car, picked up a banana, peeled it, and malevolently began to eat it."

Death in Five Boxes is the seventh of Carr's Sir Henry Merrivale stories, and although it's one of the weakest, it still has some lovely riddles. It's an entertaining, borderline comical murder mystery with a cast of characters who almost feel like they've come out of a board game. In fact, there's much that feels game like about this tale. Characters bounce theories off each other like players trying their hardest to put together a solution to a complicated brainteaser.

The appeal of Carr's mysteries lies largely in his impossible crimes and intricate puzzles, and unfortunately, this might be this tale's biggest flaw. The main trick is a great one, but it's so good that it's been lifted and reused time and time again. The minor mysteries aren't as satisfying to solve, and one solution in particular feels rather cheap. Still, the mystery itself is fairly solid, and an intrepid detective should be able to solve it before Merrivale makes his grand reveal.

This is a story only for mystery die hards. The writing and characters are nothing special, and there's not much to recommend aside from the thrill of puzzle solving. Still, it's a quick read, and if you'd like to work your way up to the best Carr has to offer, it's not a bad read.

 2 suspicious uncles chucking flowerpots at constables out of 5.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Night Strike (1990)

Author: Gregory G. Vanhee | Page Count: 375
"Oh, c'mon, Kelly. This is all just a bit maudlin, isn't it?"
Not actually maudlin. Somewhat entertaining, kind of cheesy and a little dated now, but the latter can't be helped. The story follows protagonists J.R. Kelly, a gruff, balding cop turned CIA agent, and Rosemary Hawkins, a national security advisor known for using her feminine wiles and her political savvy to get ahead, while a domestic terror plot is brewing against the president.

That was a very non-spoilerish description despite how much is given away on the damn cover just above and on the back of the book and through very blunt foreshadowing that ends many chapters. The book is a halfway decent thriller that is a conservative wet dream about sexy women, spies, booze and destroying commies with high tech toys in the height of Cold War tensions. Or rather what a liberal thinks is a wet dream of conservatives. It comes off almost as a parody of the spy thriller genre, but seems to be totally serious. It at least doesn't diminish the entertainment value and is the literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster filled with explosions. Partly engaging and then mostly forgotten once it's done, but not necessarily bad.

Old white Blue-Bloods are evil incarnate out of 5